Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called local oligarchs hostile to the state, the “second biggest threat” to Ukraine after Russia, accusing them of conspiring to spread chaos during a protest outside the parliament building in Kiev in late August.
Three national guardsmen were killed and 138 people were injured when a live grenade was thrown at the parliament building on Aug. 31 during protests against plans to grant more powers to rebel-held regions in the eastern part of the country.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Independent newspaper, Poroshenko implied that “hostile local oligarchs” operated alongside pro-Russian elements in Ukraine to organise the violent scenes in the capital, saying that “1,100 of the 1,500 protesting in front of parliament were bussed in” from other places.
Poroshenko also said his government is making a “serious attempt” to bring the oligarchs under control, mentioning the incidents in Kiev demonstrated a “shift in Russian tactics” by working to destabilise Ukraine “from the inside.”
The Ukrainian president’s comments have come after Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, who is now serving as the governor of Ukraine’s southern city of Odessa after being granted Ukrainian citizenship earlier this year, accused oligarchs in the country of operating a “shadow government” in Ukraine.
Saakashvili even went as far as claiming that the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was trying to “obstruct reform” and was working for the interests of the oligarchs.
In the interview, Poroshenko also mentioned that the Ukrainian government had “red lines,” which if crossed, would have “clear consequences – and sanctions” for the Russians.
He additionally called for the release of Ukrainian filmmaker and activist Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison by a Russian court in the city of Rostov-on-Don for conspiring to commit “terrorist attacks.”
Poroshenko said Sentsov’s only crime was being Ukrainian and “proud of it,” but denied that the government was in talks to exchange him with two Russian soldiers captured in the eastern city of Luhansk in July.
Fighting has been ongoing in Ukraine’s eastern provinces after the country’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych fled anti-government protests in Kiev in February 2014.
Almost 8,000 people have been killed since the conflict in eastern Ukraine began in April 2014, the UN Human Rights agency said in a statement released last week.
Despite the Minsk 2 ceasefire, an agreement that was signed in the Belarusian capital in February, sporadic clashes have been intensifying particularly around the strategically located coastal city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
Control of the road to Mariupol would not only grant the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk access to the sea, but would allow the rebels to form a land bridge linking them to the Crimean peninsula.
Both the rebels and the Kiev forces have been accused of violating the ceasefire. While the report claims foreign fighters, weapons and ammunition from Russia is fueling the conflict, it also slammed the Ukrainian government for the “arbitrary and incommunicado detention” of rebels who face torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities.